A Missing Ingredient As We Teach and Parent Our Kids

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Are you teaching your children what to think or how to think?

A number of years ago, I made a plaque for my mom and dad. They were feeling a bit discouraged and wondered if they’d failed as parents in certain categories. The wall plaque was a framed piece I had written called: “What My Parents Did Right.”

Let me share with you one of the many gifts my mom and dad gave to me as a kid, that I included on that plaque. It won’t sound new to you—but it will sound rare. Most parents and teachers fail to do it today. Quite simply, my parents didn’t simply teach me WHAT to think, they taught me HOW to think.

They passed on their values in such a way, that I had a clear grid from which to make wise decisions, to evaluate leaders over me and society around me. Today, long after I have left the home belonging to my great parents, I still use that grid. I face new situations every day that I cannot ask them about—but I don’t have to. I know how to think critically and objectively. My folks didn’t just “give me a fish” so I could eat for the day. They “taught me to fish” so I could eat for a lifetime.

I don’t see this too often today. We are too busy with our careers, or payments, or golf games or whatever. But this may be the most important task we have. May I suggest a few action steps for you to take with your young people?

  1. Process everything that happens. When you see a movie, hear a news report, or listen to a song, talk it over. Debrief its meaning, and the worldview of the people involved.
  2. Plan meaningful experiences together. Don’t simply go to ballgames (though I love ballgames) but feed the homeless in a soup kitchen or travel to another country and absorb it together.
  3. Ask lots of questions. When your child tells you what they did, enjoy the story, but eventually (without sounding like a professor) ask them their opinion about what happened.
  4. Share principles you’ve picked up in your past. At the right time, in those teachable moments, pass along a nugget, a quip or a little phrase you’ve used to keep you on track. You’ll be surprised how they remember it.

I read recently that 70% of Americans do no thinking for themselves. They simply parrot what the commercials tell them, what their friends tell them or what Oprah tells them. How about we start a quiet movement with our kids? Here’s to a new initiative where we, adults, teach the next generation how to think for themselves.

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